A difficult part of being a team photographer for any club is having to capture a painful defeat. It can be an awkward task, but it’s an imperative part of our digital coverage. Win or loss, we are here to tell the story.
This past Sunday against the rival Falcons was one of those games, and I feel it is necessary to discuss. As team photographers, we are partly acting as team historians by documenting the events that took place on the field.
We are also responsible for providing images to our website staff of the keys plays that took place and we cannot come up empty-handed. Lopsided losses happen, and when they do, that does not mean I stop taking photos. If anything, it shifts how I cover the game, where I position myself on the field and the types of reactions I look for after big plays.
Around the second quarter I decided to reposition myself to be in the end zone facing the Falcons offense, which is the opposite of where I would normally be located on the field. I mixed it up to get a different perspective on the defense and a better view of where the ball was going.
An example of that was when Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was in coverage against Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones. The ball was thrown and I stuck with my long lens, so while I kind of got the shot it was just a little too tight. However, had I been in front of the defense, I would have missed the shot altogether. Just as Jones is fading into the referee who was creeping into the frame, you can see the ball approaching his hand and Kuechly is right on top of him. I will stay on a play like that because my hope is that the defense breaks up the pass and then a hyped up reaction follows. Jones ended up making a spectacular catch, which resulted instead in a reaction of frustration by Kuechly. That play ended up being one of the storylines of the day, so photos were absolutely needed.
Sometimes it is less about the play and more about capturing a scene-setter for the day. After an interception, Falcons players were celebrating in the end zone as Panthers players were walking back to the bench. I saw potential in taking a wide shot with the focus being the home team walking off the field, exhausted, while leaving enough space to include the victorious body language of the opposing team. I personally would much rather the roles be reversed for the teams in the photo, but unfortunately it summed up the game. Again, this photo was used for a story on the website about how the loss was “extremely frustrating” for Carolina.
On Sunday, I stayed in the end zone when the Panthers offense took the field. I stayed poised and ready for big plays and touchdowns. In the second quarter, an offensive drive brought the Panthers into the red zone and in position to score. I was near the corner of the end zone, watching quarterback Kyle Allen as he was scanning the field for options. His body language indicated he was going to pass to wide receiver DJ Moore, so I quickly shifted the focus of my 70-200mm lens to Moore. At that very moment, Falcons safety Ricardo Allen jumped into the frame for an interception. I was wide enough that while I was still focused on Moore, there was enough room in the frame to get Allen reaching for the ball mid-air.
I hate to say that it is a beautiful frame because it was a very costly play for the Panthers and robbed them of a potential touchdown, but all the elements are there. The focus is on Moore, bathed in golden late Autumn sunlight, surprised eyes fixated on Allen who looks like an ominous figure emerging from the shadows to steal the pass. In the full frame of this photo, Allen’s entire body is visible, lending even more balance to the frame. If I had been working for the Associated Press that day, then I would have been immensely proud of this photo. I do recognize that it is a perfectly captured scene, photographically speaking, but again, it is of a moment that added to a pile of things that went wrong for the home team.
It is my job to capture these events as they happen. But I have come to know this team well over the past several seasons, so I always want to photograph the thrill of victory. I would always prefer to capture touchdowns, leaping chest bumps in the end zone, interceptions by Thieves Ave., Kuechly getting hype after a big tackle or Mario Addison adding another quarterback sack to his tally.
The reality is that won’t happen every Sunday, and I have to be prepared to document what goes down. The mentality in this building is to quickly move on from the last game and look forward to the one ahead. So that is the good news; another opportunity lies ahead. And I’ll be there to capture all of it.
View the best photos behind-the-scenes from Carolina's Week 11 home game against Atlanta.